The conservation battle in Uganda

Conservation officials and UPDF soldiers guard a crocodile caught marauding in a village. PHOTOS BY ERIC NTALUMBWA.

What you need to know:

Dilema. While the human population grows, natural resources such as land and water, among others continue to become depleted. This depletion is what has led to the now urgent global issue of human-wildlife conflict. Stakeholders in Uganda are devising strategies that can lead to a peaceful co-existence of both species, writes Eric Ntalumbwa.

The idea of conservation might be familiar to a number of people, but the outcomes of failing to create a harmonious living between wildlife and people are certainly not. Human-wildlife conflict has turned out to be an active critical threat to the survival of many species in Uganda. In one dimension, animals attack, harm and or kill people, another is where wildlife competes with livestock for grazing space, water, salt licks, and another where humans poach for subsistence, small scale commercial purpose or carryout retaliatory killing. Conservationists concur that it is a challenge to ensure the peaceful co-existence of wild animals among high densities of humans.

Human-wildlife conflicts are as a result of competing land uses. As human populations continue to increase, invasions of wildlife migratory corridors is also on the rise. In the 1890s and early 1900’s, elephants were migrating from northern Tanzania through the Lake Mburo National Park to western Uganda including Murchison Falls National Park area to South Sudan. But these corridors have now been disconnected with a lot of human activities including settlement, cultivation, livestock rearing, plantation forests and now the ongoing oil exploration. Therefore, wildlife is being restricted to small enclaves and as a result large animals like elephants are forced to cross to community land in search for food.

Officers struggle to subdue an African python.

The Commissioner of Wildlife Conservation at the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities Dr Akankwasa Barirega reveals that the recovery of wildlife populations has coincided with population explosion, return of peace and stability and hence agriculture and settlement expansion which has resulted in clashing of interests of wildlife conservation and people.
“During the war in the north, when people went into camps, wildlife took over and freely roamed in the vast free areas, with the return of peace and stability and the return of people back to their normal life, wildlife has continuously returned to their home ranges and migratory routes resulting in human-wildlife conflicts,” he says.

Meanwhile, communities near protected areas continue to apportion blame on wildlife authority for slow response to calls when animals cross to community farmland and feed on both their crops and domestic animals. In a recent interaction with the Basongora community in Hamukungu, Kasese District, they revealed that a fortnight before the pride was allegedly poisoned last year, it crossed the Queen Elizabeth Park boundary to the community, killed a bull and goats, but when the local people reported to Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) seeking for compensation, it was reluctant to respond to the matter. Every year UWA gives 20 per cent to communities near the park as part of the revenue sharing agreement.

According to UWA reports, from 2009 to 2017, it had registered over 13,000 human-wildlife conflict cases around conservation areas involving livestock predation by lions and leopards, elephant crop damage as well as hippo, buffalo and chimpanzee attacks.
Since 2009, the number of reported cases has risen by over 22 percent and the trend is on a steady build up. A total of 300 crocodile attacks were recorded during the period between 1996 and 2009. Of these, 247 human deaths and 63 survivals were recorded.

Conflict hotspots
In Uganda most of the areas surrounding protected areas experience human-wildlife conflicts. Makerere University lecturer and wildlife researcher Dr. Amos Ochieng puts more emphasis on Lake Mburo National Park’s neighboring sub-county of Rurambiira and especially those living within a radius of five kilometres from the park boundary.
“The people experience more incidences of zebra, baboon, and warthog destroying their crops. Of course this area is unique in a sense that, in 1987 close to 60 per cent of what was park land was redistributed to private individuals. Unfortunately, the animals were never sensitized about the new changes in their boundaries and the expectations of their now new ‘neighbours’,” he reveals.
The don also declares areas around Queen Elizabeth National Park as a conflict hotspot.

“Rwehingo Sub-county is prone to elephants crossing to villages and destroying people’s gardens,” he says.
In 2018 alone, a pride of 11 lions was found dead in Queen Elizabeth. Murchison Falls Conservation Area, Koch Goma Sub-county in Nwoya District also experiences elephant attacks.
“All these areas are also prone to poaching especially for subsistence use, small scale commercial purpose or even retaliatory killing,” explains Ochieng.

The other areas are the landing sites in Mayuge District in Eastern Uganda where more than 10 people are reported to have been attacked and killed by crocodiles between 2015 and 2018. Mt Elgon National Park has suffered boundary disputes; efforts to establish a live edge boundary around the park were done in 1993 composed of eucalyptus trees until 2001.
Between 2001 and 2002, UWA wanted to open up the boundary and re-demarcate the park. This was meant to do fresh demarcation around the park which did not go well among the communities. According to the communities, many people were caught in the park, what UWA did was to evict these people, destroying their crops with many ending up landless and never compensated. This sparked the human-wildlife conflict in the area.
Objective four of the Uganda Wildlife Policy (2014) provides a framework and government direction and commitment to effectively mitigate human wildlife conflicts.

The beehives are useful in keeping elephants a way.

Government interventions
Management of human-wildlife conflict in Uganda is an urgent and important issue. It is important to address the issue wholesomely, and co-create the mitigation solutions, with full engagement of all the relevant stakeholders. Government has focused on finding effective farmer-managed deterrents that are both socially, and economically suitable especially in ‘conflict’ zones.
This knowledge is being exploited in the human –wildlife conflict resolution around Bwindi Mgahinga Conservation Area, Kibale Forest and other protected areas.

To make this intervention effective and efficient, beehives are connected by a horizontal wire along the park boundary. Whenever one beehive or the wire is knocked by elephants, bees merge out of the hives in large numbers scaring and forcing the elephants to run away.
According to reports, UWA has supported the locals in Bwindi to acquire 200 local beehives.
Meanwhile, George Owoyesigire, the deputy director for Community Conservation at UWA has also given hope to communities around Kibale Forest National Park.
“I saw the community suffer in the stretch almost around the park, but we did some monitoring for some years and identified some crop raiding hotspots mainly by elephants. I decided to start up a bee keeping project which I coordinate,” he said.

Owoyesigire has since given out 500 improved beehives to individuals within the community at no cost.
“In 2018, the community harvested 780 kilograms of honey and the bee farmers were paid in total Shs3.5 m from the sales,” he disclosed.
UWA has created buffer zones to focus on preventing animals from crossing beyond the park into the neighbouring communities.
The buffer zones incorporate the welfare of local people and the preservation of biodiversity sustainably thereby eliminating gaps between development and conservation. In the same spirit, UWA has embarked on the installation of electric fences.

Towards the end of last year, it set aside Shs1b to start on electric fencing as one of the ways to mitigate human wildlife conflict. A 10 km solar-powered electric wire fence was erected in Kyenzanza II village, Kirugu Sub-county in Rubirizi district following complaints by communities losing their crops and lives to wild animals from Queen Elizabeth.
Earlier, during the commissioning of UWA’s fourth ranger intake in Murchison Falls National Park, the executive director Sam Mwandha, told President Museveni that the Authority needs about Shs50 bn to effectively control human wildlife conflicts using the electric fence in the various parts of the country.

The other solutions are specific to the wildlife or areas concerned, and are creative. These include -the Mauritius thorn hedge which forms a physical barrier (live fence ) which many animal species find difficult to penetrate, partnerships with communities to work as scouts, deployment of rangers to chase or scare wild animals away, red chili which is burnt with grease to produce smoke which irritates animals until they retreat into the park, awareness and sharing roles and responsibilities, scare shooting, capture and relocation, alternative livelihoods, use of chili bombs, vuvuzelas and whistles, crocodile cages constructed in Kyebukube along river Kagera, scare crows, elephant trenches, awareness meetings to mention but a few.
With the different approaches to address human-wildlife conflict, there is need to ensure that local people do not unfairly bear the negative side-effects of conservation, becoming more opposed to it and further jeopardising the survival of high conservation value species.